I’m not sure if people have become more or less honest over time. I’ve heard that human nature has always been the way it is, and even the stories of Shakespeare repeated the same old human frailties — lust, laziness, pride, envy and greed. Some people will always have criminal intentions. What I have noticed, though, is that we have come up with more ways than ever to catch people doing wrong — and increasingly it’s “Big Brother” with it’s eyes on us.
Back when I was a kid, I remember when ‘shoplifting mirrors’ started to appear in stores. Made sense to me — a shopkeeper could see down aisles all over the store and keep an eye on suspicious customers. The big convex mirrors could cover a wide area and also helped keep people from running into each other around blind corners. It was a pretty good way of cutting down on the “five finger discounts” as stealing was called. Being a kid without larceny in my soul, I liked the innovation. Those really became common in the 70s. And those simple mirrors didn’t set off any alarm bells in my teenage brain — after all, it was just to cut down on shoplifting and nothing that involved me personally.
As time went on, the technology got more sophisticated. That’s when cameras started popping up. Most were pretty basic and gave a blurry picture at best. Some were even fake, but the would-be shoplifter didn’t know which were which, so they had the same effect in deterring theft. That seemed a little off to me at the time. After all, I was just in a store to buy something and not to have pictures taken of me. The cameras got better. They got sharper, recorded everything 24 hours a day, and could even be guided remotely. I’m no lawyer so I have no idea how this works exactly, but some states don’t allow recording someone’s voice but do allow recording their picture or video. Seems odd to me that you can take a picture but not listen to someone. But the outcome is still the same. Walk in a store and you may be recorded. Then the cameras appeared on traffic lights. Run that red light and get a ticket in the mail. It’s a great idea to help police cut down on crime and catch criminals. For everything created for good, though, there’s the possibility to be used with bad intentions.
Now it’s a common story in the news — a secret camera hidden in the public restroom or changing room in a store by some bad person. The cameras have become smaller and better and cheaper. Now when I go in a major retail chain, the cameras are everywhere. They show you your own face and even chime to get your attention, that’s so you look at the camera and they get a good picture. They record your face when you scan your purchases and pay. We all heard about how in the future the cameras will watch you everywhere you go — and they will be able to map your face and recognize you. That future is here and most of us just go our way like nothing is wrong. To me, it has the ultimate “creep” factor. The machines watch what we do, where we go, what we buy, and tabulate the data forever to be used in ways we can’t even imagine. We send in a saliva sample to “find out where our ancestors were from.” Now they have the DNA of millions of people. Great way to decide who may be affected by a drug — or how to target a population with a chemical. Our phones do the same and more. Some even ask to picture your face as a “security” feature. Great way to make sure only the owner gets to use the phone. Great way to record your face with everything you say, view online, buy, who you talk to and where you are 24/7. And the data, no matter what “they” say — is up for grabs and always available to the highest bidder, because everything good can be used for evil. Maybe I sound like an alarmist — but the human tendencies are the same as they were in Shakespeare’s time — lust, laziness, pride, envy and greed. And some people will always have criminal intentions.